For many, the month of August symbolizes the end of summer and the start of a new school year for most of the nation's children. Parents, eager to ensure their child has a safe and successful school year, scramble to fulfill school supply lists and face long lines at the mall to purchase new school clothes. Immunizations are a vital piece to children's safety and protection at school.

One might think, "How are immunizations important in keeping a child safe?" Immunizations (also called vaccines or shots) help protect individuals from serious diseases. Immunizations can prevent infectious diseases like measles, diphtheria and rubella. People in the U.S. still die from these and other vaccine-preventable diseases. It's extremely important to know which shots your child and you need and when to get them.

This is why the month of August is recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month. This is the time to encourage family, friends and coworkers to protect their health by getting caught up on their shots. Most immunizations work best when they are given at certain ages. Here are some general guidelines:

Young children:
Children under age 6 get a series of immunizations that protect against a variety of diseases such as measles, pneumonia, polio, chickenpox and hepatitis. Visit your healthcare provider to get a complete list of all of the recommended vaccines for children under age 6.

All 11- and 12-year-olds need immunizations to help protect against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough and meningitis. Doctors recommend girls and boys get the HPV vaccine to protect against HPV-related diseases.

Immunizations aren't just for babies and children. Adults also need immunizations to help protect from serious diseases and illness. Everyone over age 6 months needs a seasonal flu shot every year. In additional to the flu shot, adults need to be aware of other recommended immunizations. A one-dose shingles vaccine is recommended for adults age 60 and older. Adults should get a tetanus shot every 10 years. Adults should also talk to their health provider about the pneumonia or pneumococcal vaccine.

Pneumonia is still a major cause of illness and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that pneumonia caused 43,500 cases and 5,000 deaths among persons of all ages in 2009. Adults age 19-64 with certain medical conditions, those that smoke cigarettes or adults with asthma should get the vaccine. Adults 65 years and older should get the one-time shot. Research shows that these groups of adults are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia.

Immunizations apply to all individuals--from infants to seniors. When people remain timely with their shots, it not only protects the individual and family, it also protects the community as a whole. Talk to your doctor or nurse to find out which immunizations you need. For more information, visit your local military treatment facility or community health department. The Internet also provides a lot of information about immunizations.